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The African political conundrum: death of a rich continent

African politicians promise big development results when in opposition and act small while in power. This is the puzzle, challenge, riddle or conundrum Africa finds itself in today. If you were a newly born baby and God gave you extraordinary growth speed of being a teenager within a week and you were born in any African country preparing for a general election, you can most likely conclude with a prayer – Thank You Jesus for making Africa my destiny! Just the euphoria of good promises and the energy that accompanies our political leaders as they make these promises would comfort you beyond reasonable doubt that great development results are forthcoming. But behold ‘miracle’ baby girl/boy, this is Africa where citizens are happy and ululate in celebrating such political messages BUT die inside their hearts and minds in shameless timidity and fear when it comes to confronting the ‘loud’ broken political promises in subsequent years! The development agenda under the so-called democratic dispensation is predominantly driven by the political economy. That is why African people should not play with political matters as they would play around with fire in a village Insaka.

Let me put my views in context. In results based management (RBM) approaches and theories of change (ToC) thinking, we contend that for anyone to achieve a certain desired result, one must have that end in mind (desired result) as a prerequisite. Thinking and acting deductively from that solidly defined end in mind becomes the very motivation to clarify immediate and intermediate actions in pursuit of that long-term result. In RBM and ToC, we can also prove that devoid of a clearly defined end in mind, any effort to implement any development intervention becomes work in futility. Thus, it is extremely upsetting, unsettling and energy usurping to belong to a society, country or African continent that seems to thrive in sustaining a culture of nation building with unclear development goals.

In Africa, we have a situation where perhaps only less than a third of countries have serious leaderships that promise and deliver to their people the quantity and quality of development desired. If you look at regional blocs like SADC, ECOWAS and others, you will be lucky to count up to three (3) countries who could be inspirational developmentally. In East Africa for instance, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya stand out while in SADC where Zambia our own country sits, only Botswana and reluctantly South Africa have shown some socio-economic resilience in nation building. You may do your own reviews, but the point is – the African continent and its leaderships and peoples seem to be forever treasuring the status of being ‘less developed’. Why is it that politics has become the most criticised venture across the continent and beyond?

Without missing any words, the majority of Africans who have offered themselves to public office are the biggest shame and cost to the African development agenda. They get into authority to steal and plunder national assets and create a hostile culture and environment of a thieving leadership. In the fullness of their tenure in office, they create an impression that to govern is the most difficult thing on earth. They tell us that one or two terms was not enough to turn around the fortunes of Africa. Lamentably, they even fail to give a definite course of action and direction developmentally. But without any iota of shame, they even come around to campaign showering us with same promises of improved agriculture, employment for millions of youths and women, good social and economic sectoral systems, etc.

In Zambia for instance, we have had several elections since independence in 1964. But just to remember some of the fresh realities during the 2011, 2015 and 2016 elections, a number of promises given by the Patriotic Front (PF) while in opposition have since been abandoned with impunity. Zambia Railways was supposed to be up and running with profit margins adequate to sustain itself; Zesco was promised to be transformed into the 21st Century energy provider while the mining towns were promised to be made great again. We have not forgotten how we were promised that Chalimbana University, Nkhrumah University and many of those universities already started in northern Zambia have been abandoned or partially completed. We were promised quality road and water infrastructure only to be given death traps in poorly constructed or rehabilitated jobs. Some of the appetising campaign messages of the PF included more money in our pockets—but current realities now are that citizens have no or little money in their purses and wallets. Fuel and prices for most goods and services have gone up and even the PF government does not know pragmatically when and how these prices will drop to manageable levels.

My message today is a complaining one! Why is it that in Africa generally and in Zambia particularly, political leaders settle for making big campaign development promises yet when the people give them mandates to rule, they settle for embarrassingly small objectives and goals? In the case of Zambia, you promise us Lusaka-Ndola dual carriage-way, you give us township and compound paths; you promise us more jobs, you shower us with Mukula tree deals, illegal gold mining in Mwinilunga, failed e-voucher system, uncountable houses without owners yet completed and we get fooled with the non-reopening of the Kabwe’s Mulungushi Textile as well as the Kafue Nitrogen Plant. Why is it that major roads including the Kazungula-Sesheke, Kaoma-Mongu and many others around the country still remain outside the priority of the Zambian public budgets?

Learning from the way the MMD and PF regimes have treated the Zambian development process, I now have great doubt and restraint to believe any other political grouping, including those in the opposition. Analogically, Zambians (and Africans) have been duped to extents of being fooled through being promised ‘mango juice’ only to be given ‘pig urine’. This has to be resolved by African citizens themselves because leaving these political groupings alone, nothing tangible will come out. As hundreds of thousands of trained teachers, nurses, technicians, doctors, economists, lawyers, etc are languishing at home without any hope of employment—it is important to think and find ways to participate in the true emancipation struggle of our continent and countries.

RBM and M&E should be made a must in our development processes. When institutionalised and embraced by citizens and systems of governance, RBM and M&E practices will resolve the issue of fake electoral campaign promises. It is for that reason that I have been advocating for clearly articulated political party manifestos and constitutions with robust M&E frameworks. Performance indicators, baselines, targets and milestones to be achieved by a regime will clearly be defined in M&E frameworks, making the implementation process well tracked. Aluta continua for a better Africa not one which is dead yet rich continent.

Dr Vincent Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies. For comments and views, email: vkanyamuna@unza.zm

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